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What does a Meat Inspector do?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A meat inspector is a food safety professional who examines meat to be consumed by humans to guarantee their flesh and organs are free of disease, harmful bacteria and other contaminants. He examines animals prior to their slaughter to determine they are free of abnormalities, sickness or infection. He scrutinizes them subsequent to slaughter for the same maladies. Poultry and eggs are generally inspected separately and by different standards particular to the industry.

Besides examining the animals, a meat inspector examines the vehicles used to transport them as well as the slaughterhouses and meat packing plants through which they pass. He is schooled in what standards must be met as dictated by local and regional governments and authorities. Knowledge of foreign criterion for safety is necessary if the meat is being imported.

Along with checking the physical and sanitary conditions of the transporting vehicles and processing facilities, a meat inspector verifies the ingredients used in processing and preserving the meat. He also guarantees the meat conforms to industry-established standards of purity and grading. Making sure the meat is not mislabeled is also an important job of a meat inspector.

Products containing meat or meat by-products are also examined for safety and quality by a meat inspector. These include smoked and cured meats, canned goods and frozen entrees and dinners. Dried meat products such as jerky also undergo careful inspection.

A meat inspector is customarily required to have a good eye for detail. He must generally keep thorough records of his observations regarding meat products from his inspections at the slaughterhouse through delivery to retail and wholesale sales locations. Good communication skills are required to identify and resolve any discrepancies he may find. His integrity and honesty typically are required to ensure the safety and health of consumers.

The educational qualifications to become a meat inspector vary. Some regions require the inspector to be a doctor of veterinary medication to qualify for the job. Other meat inspecting jobs require a four-year college degree, preferably in agricultural, physical or biological sciences or a related field.

Most applicants must have a minimum of one year’s experience in a food processing, production or packaging environment. A demonstrated ability to understand and apply quality control and industry standards is strongly preferred. In some sectors of the industry, meat inspectors who are not veterinarians are required to work with a veterinarian during initial inspections of livestock.

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Discussion Comments

By Clairdelune — On Sep 29, 2011

I was glad to read in this article that even cured, smoked, canned and frozen meat is inspected with care.

So, after meat and meat products leave the store that we buy them at, it is then up to us to handle the food wisely. The food inspectors have done their part, and now we need to make sure that meat is prepared, cooked, and stored properly to avoid contamination.

I wonder when meat inspections began in the U.S. and how it has improved over the years. I guess in the olden days, meat was slaughtered and eaten right away or it was cured and stored.

By B707 — On Sep 29, 2011

Even though the duties of a USDA meat inspector don't sound very appealing to most of us, we all should be glad that there are people who choose this occupation and take it seriously.

Considering all the meat that Americans eat, meat inspectors must be doing a good job. There aren't too many reports of illnesses caused by tainted meat. The one exception would be occasional outbreaks of bacteria in ground meat.

I have read about some slaughter houses in the US, that for some reason, aren't being inspected like they should be. I hope this situation will be corrected.

By snickerish — On Sep 28, 2011

@popcorn - I could only imagine how it would have been for someone studying to be a vet would feel seeing animals in the conditions you described, but it made me think of one improvement that has been made in animal conditions regarding this whole process.

There is a woman with Aspergers Syndrome named Temple Grandin (there is a movie about her as well), and she has actually come up with some solutions for the animal industry to improve the slaughter process.

For example she created an invention that helps animals not to be hurt unnecessarily in the process. This system she created restrains animals in such a way that actually keeps them calm which apparently keeps them from harm.

And it must work as stats show that in North America this system is used for almost half of all the cows.

By amysamp — On Sep 27, 2011

What I think is interesting is also the backstory on the regulations for meat that are made, that the meat inspector has to abide by.

Part of my fascination with this is a show I saw on how meat is packaged. There are all sorts of chemicals used to keep it within guidelines. I can't remember all of the details but I remember thinking how gross it was that ammonia was one of them.

My husband loves meat, and I wonder if he had a USDA meat inspector job if he would still have the stomach for meat or if seeing where the food came from would change his taste for meat.

By strawCake — On Sep 26, 2011

@JessicaLynn - It does seem weird but a veterinarian would certainly be qualified to decide if animals are sick or not.

I think it's good there are stringent hiring standards for this job. Tainted meat can make people very sick, so it needs to be inspected carefully. If that requires veterinary training, then so be it!

By JessicaLynn — On Sep 25, 2011

I just can't imagine going to veterinary school and then working as a meat inspector. I imagine most people who go to veterinary schools go because they want to help animals. Not because they want to inspect them and make sure they are fit for slaughter and human consumption.

Not that I think there is anything wrong with eating meat-I'm definitely not a vegetarian. It just seems like a job that is fairly in-congruent with the job of a veterinarian.

By summing — On Sep 25, 2011

Boy, you would have to have a pretty strong stomach to become a meat inspector. I took a tour of a slaughterhouse once and I found it pretty horrifying. It is a lot like what you would imagine except even more blood, guts etc.

Thinking about spending all day in that environment and having to scrutinize every detail kind of makes my stomach turn. I don't know how I could finish up work and go home and eat a steak. It might sour you on meat forever.

Regardless, I'm glad that there are men and women out there with the stomach to do this job. They keep the rest of us safe and they save us from having to go through with a lot of really unpleasant experiences.

By backdraft — On Sep 24, 2011

I really wonder how it is possible for any meat inspector to do their job effectively. If you think about how many tens of thousands of pounds of meat that are produced in this country each day and how fast they are killed, processed and packaged, I just don't know how there can be enough educated eyes to check for everything that could potentially go wrong.

I say this and yet the meat supply seems remarkably safe. I have never had problems eating meat and it seems like most instances of food poisoning are related more to preparation than processing. But it seems like the threat is out there. I hope that our record of safety doesn't lead to future complacency.

By MrSmirnov — On Sep 24, 2011

When I buy meat I always make sure to see if it carries the seal of a USDA meat inspector. Most butchers proudly display that they have passed inspection, and I wouldn't buy from anyone who couldn't prove their meat was healthy.

I think that food safety inspectors have a really important jobs, and with all the news you hear about there being contaminated food getting to people's tables, you really have to do your research before buying anything. I only ever got food poisoning once from tainted meat, and it was a horrible experience I hope to never repeat.

By popcorn — On Sep 23, 2011

My brother worked as a meat inspector for awhile while he was studying to become a vet. Meat inspector jobs actually pay pretty well, but he felt it was a hard job that wasn't really giving him any satisfaction.

When my brother got the meat inspector job he had to do some meat inspector training courses to make sure he knew what was required of a food inspector. While his veterinary background helped him to see whether animals were sick or not, there was so much more to look out for. He found the toughest thing was having to see animals in too small cages and that were obviously suffering.

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